NEW YORK (Reuters) - Yemeni Nobel peace laureate Tawakul Karman made an impassioned plea to the United Nations on Tuesday to repudiate a Gulf Arab plan that would grant immunity to her country’s “war criminal” president.
Karman, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with two Liberian women this month, arrived in New York as the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council circulated a draft resolution to the full 15-nation body. That proposal urges the swift “signature and implementation” of the Gulf Arab plan, under which Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh would be immune from prosecution.
“The youth’s peaceful revolution is against the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) initiative, especially because it gives immunity to Saleh and his family,” Karman told reporters at a demonstration near the United Nations, where she was greeted by a cheering crowd of around 150 Yemeni supporters.
“We don’t think that the Security Council will be trapped in a resolution that will give immunity to the regime,” said Karman, who dedicated her Nobel prize to the Arab uprisings and to those killed in the upheavals.
While it urges implementation of the GCC deal, the draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, would have the council say it “stresses that all those responsible for violence, human rights violations and abuses should be held accountable.” It did not give any details on how accountability would be achieved.
The human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch criticized the immunity deal that is central to the GCC plan as well.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Martin Nesirky also rejected the idea of an amnesty for Yemen, saying: “It’s vital that there should be no impunity.” A spokesman for the U.N. human rights office in Geneva said international law prohibits amnesties for gross violations of human rights.
Council diplomats told Reuters that they hoped the draft resolution, which was penned by Britain in consultation with France, the United States, Russia and China, would be put to a vote and approved before the end of the week.
Russia and China, which vetoed a European-drafted resolution condemning Syria’s crackdown, are not planning to block the Yemen resolution, council diplomats say.
In Yemen’s capital Sanaa, at least six people were killed in the capital on Tuesday in an intensifying crackdown by security forces on protesters demanding an end to Saleh’s 33 years in office, witnesses said. That brought the number of people killed to at least 34 over the last four days, along with 100 injured.
Karman read the crowd a letter she has written to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council demanding their support for peaceful protesters in Yemen and Syria, where a government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters has killed over 3,000 civilians, according to U.N. figures.
“We’re here calling on the United Nations to stand up for human rights and democracy, which are the principles it was founded upon,” she said through interpreters.
“We came here to tell them that Ali Saleh and (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad are both criminals and they have to be held accountable and prosecuted,” she said.
The 32-year-old journalist and mother of three added that she would not leave New York City until the council takes action against Saleh.
“I feel shame that I will be sleeping tonight in a hotel and my people will be sleeping in the streets,” she said. “(But) I will stay in New York until the crimes of Ali Saleh are transferred to the International Criminal Court and until they freeze all his assets.”
That is what the Security Council did with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi after his security forces earlier this year killed scores of demonstrators inspired by the “Arab Spring” uprisings that toppled governments in Egypt and Tunisia.
The ICC charged Gaddafi, one of his sons and his intelligence chief with crimes against humanity.
Karman made clear she only wanted sanctions on Saleh and his close circle, not military intervention by NATO, as the Security Council authorized for Libya. But she demanded that the council take Yemen and Syria as seriously as Libya.
“We’re calling on them to treat the revolutions in Yemen and Syria just like they did in Libya and Egypt and Tunisia,” she said.
“The attacks on peaceful protesters are crimes against humanity,” Karman said. “Just like the civilians and the peaceful protesters were being killed in Libya and Egypt, they are being killed now in Yemen and elsewhere.”
Editing by Eric Walsh